There's a lot of lore about NHL playoffs. The depth has to chip in, the defence has to score, the grinders win you the series. It makes for a quick and easy complaint or critique of a team because the grinders and the defence and the depth likely won't score much, so when they don't, you can point to them and say, "I have found the guilty party." Lose a few playoff rounds in a row, and it becomes tradition to blame some guy playing 10 minutes a night instead of the ones making eight figures, not six.
To really sell this idea, you take the opposing team, about which most people know very little, claim the third line is the fourth, and find the guy who got lucky playing 15 minutes a night and say, "Look, look, they have better depth. We are doooooomed because we don't get goals from the fourth line." Well, of course you don't get goals from the fourth line. A great fourth liner who doesn't get power-play time gets 10 goals in an entire NHL season. What are you expecting in a playoff round?
To answer that question seriously, I decided to quantify this as much as possible. It's a hard thing to do because the playoffs are profoundly different to the regular season. No, not like that. They're different because a round is seven games, not 82. In any set of seven games, blah, blah. Look either you believe passionately that the playoffs are the one true expression of confidence, worth and effort or you know that weird things happen in small numbers of games. I'm never going to engage in that holy war, but weird things happen in small numbers of games.
In a very real sense, you can't say what you should expect out of a playoff round, because you should be expecting anything at all. I'm doing it anyway, though.
|Player||Est. TOI/GP||Est. G per GP||7 Games||14 Games||21 Games|
I confined my estimations (guessing) to forwards only. I used their current TOI on the Leafs as a guide, but I made some adjustments to make it come out to 60 minutes since this is all-situations guessing. Some differences between this guess and ultimate reality will become clear as the games get played. Some players will play more – I think it's entirely possible Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner play more than 22 minutes – particularly Marner if the first series starts off with a lot of penalties called as last year's did. The depth is likely to play less unless there's a big lead.
To estimate the goals per game, I took a convoluted route. I combined three years of data for all players and took their shot rate (Fenwick or unblocked shots) and multiplied it by their own shooting % (Fenwick version) and then applied their estimated TOI to it. I don't think this is dramatically different than career goals per game, but it more reasonably reflects who these players are now, and how much they will play this playoff season. As an example: Marner and Nylander come out to the same estimated goals per game, but Marner needs four more minutes on the ice to get there.
Of course, some random player might go on a scoring spree. Someone else might go cold. That's the nature of hockey. But expecting a lot from Sam Lafferty seems like a way to set yourself up for righteous rage when he doesn't score. Complaining that Alex Kerfoot, whose value is almost entirely defensive, doesn't score enough to satisfy seems to miss the point of hockey as a game of 200 feet. Expecting a lot from Auston Matthews on the other hand, is how it should be, and bearing up under those expectations is part of his job.
There is only one truism about the playoffs that I believe: your best players have to play at their best in every series. Random scoring from the depth or from non-scoring defenders is gravy, not the meat.